Four children and three adults have been shot dead in a home near the West Australian town of Margaret River, in what is the nation’s worst mass shooting since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
Police are treating the incident as a murder-suicide and have confirmed they are not looking for any suspects.
A friend of the family has confirmed to the ABC that Katrina Miles and her four children were among the seven victims.
The friend confirmed that Katrina’s parents, whose names are listed on the property title as Peter and Cynda Miles, were also killed in the incident.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said all seven victims appeared to be residents of the property, which consists of an established house and a shed that had been converted to living quarters.
Two adults were found outside and the other five bodies were discovered inside the converted shed.
Police at the scene confirmed to the ABC that the family’s next of kin had been notified, but they were yet to formally confirm the identities of the victims.
The mass shooting has the most fatalities since the Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people died and another 23 were seriously injured.
Commissioner Dawson said officers were called to the rural property in Osmington, about 20 kilometres north-east of Margaret River, about 5:15am on Friday.
They found firearms at the crime scene.
Detectives from the Homicide Squad and Forensic Crime Scene Unit have travelled to the scene as part of the investigation.
Commissioner Dawson announced the discovery at a media conference in Perth, describing the deaths as a “horrific incident”.
He said a “male person” connected to the property had phoned police just after 5:00am, and officers arrived at the scene shortly afterwards.
“This will be a very large-scale and detailed investigation.”
Commissioner Dawson said the phone call to police had been recorded but he would not reveal any more details about it.
Commissioner Dawson said police were not looking for a suspect.
“We don’t have any information to raise further public concern about that element,” he said.
Worst mass shooting in 20 years
Prior to this incident, the worst mass shooting – defined as a shooting involving five or more victims – since Port Arthur involved a man killing himself and four members of his family on a rural New South Wales property in Lockhart in 2014.
Mass shooting expert Glynn Greensmith said these incidents have become incredibly rare in Australia.
“We have been lucky that all forms of gun-related deaths have reduced dramatically since we took that step of having less guns [following the gun bans in the wake of Port Arthur],” said Mr Greensmith, who is studying a PhD in mass shootings at Edith Cowan University.
“But there are as many guns now in Australia as there were at the time of the Port Arthur massacre.”
Victims were a ‘much-loved family’
The ages of the children and adults have not been revealed.
State Member for Vasse Libby Mettam, whose seat incorporates Margaret River, said the deaths had already sent “significant shockwaves” through the town, and the community was hurting.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that will be affected by this tragedy, including those first responders.”
Former local councillor Felicity Haynes, who lives on a neighbouring property, said the family involved were “caring neighbours”.
“They were just such lovely people,” she said.
Dr Haynes said the family had moved to the property about three years earlier to start a farm, having earlier lived in Margaret River.
Another nearby resident, Freya Cheffers, said she was in shock.
“Everybody’s just devastated … I just prayed that I didn’t know the family, as it turns out, I kind of do.”
Premier Mark McGowan described the incident as a “shocking tragedy”.
“Clearly this is a distressing day for Western Australia,” he said.
Tragedy to have ‘lasting impact’
Police said they were expecting to remain at the property for “an extended period of time”.
“We are trying to locate other members of the family and friends,” Commissioner Dawson said.
“This devastating tragedy will no doubt have a lasting impact on the families concerned, the whole community and in particular, the local communities in our South West.”
Margaret River is a small town about 270 kilometres south of Perth, and the surrounding region – with a population of about 9,000 – is well-known for its beaches, wineries and craft breweries.
It is world-famous as a surfing destination, hosting an annual event of the World Surf League – the Margaret River Pro – and is a popular holiday spot among both West Australians and international tourists.
Augusta-Margaret River shire president Pamela Townshend said the tragedy would send shockwaves throughout the small community.
“It really hits hard, because everybody has links with that family in one way or another, so it will have a ripple effect right through our community,” she said.
“The good thing about a small community is that we all mobilise to support people who are in terrible distress, and there will be a huge community response … to support people affected directly and indirectly by this.
“My heart goes out to them and we will certainly provide as much support as we possibly can.”
Where to get help:
Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email [email protected]
What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. /radionz